Thursday, May 6, 2010

Turn Around, Let Down, Coin Toss

What a turn around for the Boston Bruins and the San Jose Sharks. What a let down for the Vancouver Canucks. What a coin toss for the Montreal Canadiens.

The Boston Bruins have taken full advantage of a seriously star depleted Philadelphia Flyers squad, missing Jeff Carter and Laperriere. Tuuka Rask has come out for the Bruins in a big way, delivering with great saves and making everyone wonder how Boston managed to get two such great goalies on the same bench. Tim Thomas and Tuuka Rask could have both been starter goalies for this team; there is no clear back up goalie type for Boston. Coming from Ottawa, where our situation always seemed to revolve around two back up goalies rather than a real starter and a back up, I have to say that I feel just about every shade of green.

The Flyers are about as close to a mean team as you can get in the league. Led by the always kind Chris Pronger, the perfectly coiffed Hartnell and the not-creepy mustache of Carcillo, it was my sad belief that this team would overcome the Bs not with good play, but with traditional, old style, bad play. You know the kind of bad play that I'm talking about; the kind that earned Anaheim the title of Dirty Ducks back in Pronger's days with them. For those of you wondering where this Pronger bashing comes from, let's just say that I find it somewhat difficult to respect a guy who stepped on a guy's neck with his skate- twice.

But Boston has taken total control of this series with its great goaltending, the big reach of Chara who can definitely do more than defend, and the triumphant return of Marc Savard. Who would have believed that this guy was almost a vegetable a month or so ago? He's come back better than ever, skating, scoring, checking, fighting and even...biting?

Well, the Cup finals always has at least one case of unusual defensive play and in this case, it seems to be the biting, a defensive move best used by babies and dogs. Personally, I saw what could be seen of the so-called bite incident and I don't think that I would blame Savard if he did bite Carcillo during that scrum in the corner. To be fair, if I was a player returning to the ice after recovering from attempted murder in March by Matt Cooke and my block had almost been knocked off and turned into eggplant, I would defend myself vigorously against anyone who put me in a headlock. And I would use any defense that I could and that includes biting.

Regardless of how you feel about this incident, it's nowhere near as flaboyant as incidents past. Anyone remember the hair pulling? There have been a couple of those too, and that has to be worse than biting simply because it's embarassing. And who can forget Semin's I'm-going-to-slap-you-silly routine?

There haven't been major fight incidents of this type with the San Jose Sharks, although there has been a fair amount of scrapping with the Detroit Red Wings. What has happened to this once-dominated Sharks team and this once-dominant Wings team? The Curse has been lifted off San Jose's shoulders and they are out for blood. Detroit, on the other hand, is looking tired. Maybe they're starting to experience the lag of a long season? This is a scrappy, hard working team, but they need to play a smarter game if they want to beat San Jose. Save some of that great energy and simplify your game.

Looking at a 3-0 hole, though, it could be lights out soon for Detroit and Philadelphia. That would mean that San Jose and Boston would move further into the playoffs, something that neither team has been able to boast in a long time. What a turnaround if that happens. What an achievement.

It would be a great achievement too if Vancouver could turn their series around with Chicago. Granted, this is a hard team to beat and they have a great offensive game, but Vancouver is probably still Canada's best hope for the playoffs, not to take anything away from Montreal. Vancouver's played a great season and they seem to have all their stars aligning for a great post-season with fantastic goaltending by Lou, the offensive power of the Sedins, good support by Samuelsson and Bieksa and the endless chatter of Burrows.

This series started off great for Vancouver because they were playing a confident and disciplined game. But the emotions have started to run high in this series for Vancouver and they're not the good kind. Players are acting up and getting riled up during the games and even Lou is getting in on the bad blood. The last thing that I want to see is the look of self defeat and hear the loser talk in the locker room after this series is done.

The Canucks are a good, solid team and if they play a game without being drawn into scuffles and trash talk, they can beat this Chicago team. They have the potential to beat them right into the ground. But they're shooting themselves in the foot by getting sidetracked and letting themselves be suckered into useless bickering. Show us all that you're a team of champions who doesn't need to fight the petty battles on the ice. Let it slide. Focus on making them play your game. Out play them. Stop talking.

This is one of the reasons why Pittsburgh turned it around in their series. They let Montreal get to them in that Sunday matchup where they lost and Crosby had that uncharacteristic display of bad emotion. But they bounced back from that and they learned that the real communication had to be between each other and not against the other team.

It's still a coin toss for the Montreal-Pittsburgh series, but that's because you never know which version of the team is coming out to play. All of the gamblers will still take Pittsburgh to win because they have the best odds, but anything can happen during the playoffs. If Crosby continues to play like a real Captain and gets Malkin to follow suit, the two-headed monster could come back to crush Montreal, despite the best efforts of Halak and Cammalleri. But if both Halak and Cammalleri get on a hot streak, it could be lights out for Pittsburgh with a shut-out for the great Slovakian and a hat trick for Michael, as he likes to be known.

Tonight's game will be decisive for the Montreal-Pittsburgh series. Montreal has the potential to make a comeback on their home ice, sending the city in a riot style frenzy, or Pittsburgh could rally and push them to the brink.

Can't wait to see which teams come out tonight.

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